Clockwork Prince (Page 14)

Clockwork Prince(14)
Author: Cassandra Clare

"Perhaps if-"

He broke off as the rattle of wheels became audible; for a moment Tessa thought the carriage driver had come after them, but no, this was quite a different carriage-a sturdy-looking coach that turned into the gate and began rol ing toward the manor. Jem crouched down immediately in the grass, and Will and Tessa dropped beside him. They watched as the carriage came to a stop before the manor, and the driver leaped down to open the carriage door.

A young girl stepped out, fourteen or fifteen years old, Tessa guessed- not old enough to have put her hair up, for it blew around her in a curtain of black silk. She wore a blue dress, plain but fashionable. She nodded to the driver, and then, as she started up the manor steps, she paused-paused and looked toward where Jem, Will, and Tessa crouched, almost as if she could see them, though Tessa was sure that they were well hidden by the grass.

The distance was too great for Tessa to make out her features, real y-just the pale oval of her face below the dark hair. She was about to ask Jem if he had a telescope with him, when Will made a noise-a noise she had never heard anyone make before, a sick, terrible gasp, as if the air had been punched out of him by a tremendous blow.

But it was not just a gasp, she realized. It was a word; and not just a word, a name; and not just a name, but one she had heard him say before.

"Cecily."

Chapter 6: In Silence Sealed

The human heart has hidden treasures,

In secret kept, in silence sealed;

The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,

Whose charms were broken if revealed

-Charlotte Bronte, "Evening Solace"

The door of the great house swung open; the girl disappeared inside. The coach rattled off around the side of the manor to the coach house as Will staggered to his feet. He had gone a sickly gray color, like the ashes of a dead fire.

"Cecily," he said again. His voice held wonderment, and horror.

"Who on earth is Cecily?" Tessa scrambled into a standing position, brushing grass and thistles from her dress. "Wil -"

Jem was already beside Will, his hand on his friend’s shoulder. "Will, you must speak to us. You look as if you’ve seen a ghost."

Will dragged in a long breath. "Cecily-"

"Yes, you’ve said that already," said Tessa. She heard the sharpness in her own voice, and softened it with an effort. It was unkind to speak so to someone so obviously distraught, even if he did insist on staring into space and muttering "Cecily" at intervals.

It hardly mattered; Will seemed not to have heard her. "My sister," he said.

"Cecily. She was-Christ, she was nine years old when I left."

"Your sister," said Jem, and Tessa felt a loosening of something tight around her heart, and cursed herself inwardly for it. What did it matter whether Cecily was Will ‘s sister or someone he was in love with? It had nothing to do with her.

Will started down the hill, not looking for a path, just tramping blindly among the heather and furze. After a moment Jem went after him, catching at his sleeve. "Will, don’t-"

Will tried to pul his arm away. "If Cecily’s there, then the rest of them-my family-they must be there as well."

Tessa hurried to catch up with them, wincing as she nearly turned an ankle on a loose rock. "But it doesn’t make any sense that your family would be here, Will. This was Mortmain’s house. Starkweather said so. It was in the papers-"

"I know that," Will half-shouted.

"Cecily could be visiting someone here-"

Will gave her an incredulous look. "In the middle of Yorkshire, by herself? And that was our carriage. I recognized it. There’s no other carriage in the carriage house. No, my family’s in this somehow. They’ve been dragged into this bloody business and I-I have to warn them." He started down the hil again.

"Will!" Jem shouted, and went after him, catching at the back of his coat; Will swung around and shoved Jem, not very hard; Tessa heard Jem say something about Will having held back all these years and not wasting it now, and then it all blurred together-Wil swearing, and Jem yanking him backward, and Will slipping on the wet ground, and the both of them going over together, a rol ing tangle of arms and legs, until they fetched up against a large rock, Jem pinning Will to the ground, his elbow against the other boy’s throat.

"Get off me." Will shoved at him. "You don’t understand. Your family’s dead -"

"Will." Jem took his friend by the shirtfront and shook him. "I do understand. And unless you want your family dead too, you’l listen to me."

Will went very still. In a choked voice he said, "James, you can’t possibly- I’ve never-"

"Look." Jem raised the hand that wasn’t gripping Will ‘s shirt, and pointed.

"There. Look."

Tessa looked where he was pointing-and felt her insides freeze. They were nearly halfway down the hil above the manor house, and there, above them, standing like a sort of sentry on the ridge at the hil ‘s top, was an automaton. She knew immediately what it was, though it did not look like the automatons that Mortmain had sent against them before. Those had made some surface pretense of being human. This was a tall, spindly metal creature, with long hinged legs, a twisted metal ic torso, and sawlike arms.

It was utterly still, not moving, somehow more frightening for its still ness and silence. Tessa could not even tell if it was watching them. It seemed to be turned toward them, but though it had a head, that head was featureless but for the slash of a mouth; metal teeth gleamed within. It seemed to have no eyes.

Tessa quel ed the scream rising in her throat. It was an automaton. She had faced them before. She would not scream. Will, propped on his elbow, was staring. "By the Angel-"

"That thing’s been following us; I’m sure of it," said Jem in a low, urgent voice. "I saw a flash of metal earlier, from the carriage, but I wasn’t sure. Now I am. If you go tearing off down the hill, you risk leading that thing right to your family’s door."

"I see," Will said. The half-hysterical tone had gone from his voice. "I won’t go near the house. Let me up."

Jem hesitated.

"I swear on Raziel’s name," Will ground out, between his teeth. "Now let me up."

Jem rol ed away and onto his feet; Will leaped up, pushing Jem aside, and, without a glance at Tessa, took off running-not toward the house but away from it, toward the mechanical creature on the ridge. Jem staggered for a moment, openmouthed, swore, and darted after him.

"Jem!" Tessa cried. But he was nearly out of earshot already, racing after Will. The automaton had vanished from view. Tessa said an unladylike word, hiked up her skirts, and gave chase.

It was not easy, running up a wet Yorkshire hil in heavy skirts, brambles tearing at her as she went. Practicing in her training clothes had given Tessa a new appreciation for why it was that men could move so quickly and cleanly, and could run so fast. The material of her dress weighed a ton, the heels on her boots caught on rocks as she ran, and her corset left her uncomfortably short of breath.

By the time she reached the top of the ridge, she was only just in time to see Jem, far ahead of her, disappear into a dark copse of trees. She looked around wildly but could see neither the road nor the Starkweathers’ carriage.

With her heart pounding, she dashed after him.

The copse was wide, spreading along the ridgeline. The moment Tessa ducked in among the trees, the light vanished; thick tree branches interweaving above her blocked out the sun. Feeling like Snow White fleeing into the forest, she looked around helplessly for a sign of where the boys had gone-broken branches, trodden leaves-and caught a shimmer of light on metal as the automaton surged out of the dark space between two trees and lunged for her.

She screamed, leaping away, and promptly tripped on her skirts. She went over backward, thumping painful y into the muddy earth. The creature stabbed one of its long insectile arms toward her. She rol ed aside and the metal arm sliced into the ground beside her. There was a fal en tree branch near her; her fingers scrabbled at it, closed around it, and lifted it just as the creature’s other arm swung toward her. She swept the branch between them, concentrating on the parrying and blocking lessons she’d gotten from Gabriel.

But it was only a branch. The automaton’s metal arm sheared it in half. The end of the arm sprang open into a multi-fingered metal claw and reached for her throat. But before it could touch her, Tessa felt a violent fluttering against her col arbone. Her angel. She lay frozen as the creature jerked its claw back, one of its "fingers" leaking black fluid. A moment later it gave a high- pitched whine and col apsed backward, a freshet of more black liquid pouring from the hole that had been sliced clean through its chest.

Tessa sat up and stared.

Will stood with a sword in his hand, its hilt smeared with black. He was bareheaded, his thick dark hair tousled and tangled with leaves and bits of grass. Jem stood beside him, a witchlight stone blazing through his fingers.

As Tessa watched, Will slashed out with the sword again, cutting the automaton nearly in half. It crumpled to the muddy ground. Its insides were an ugly, horribly biological-looking mess of tubes and wires.

Jem looked up. His gaze met Tessa’s. His eyes were as silver as mirrors.

Will, despite having saved her, did not appear to notice she was there at all ; he drew back his foot and delivered a savage kick to the metal creature’s side. His boot rang against metal.

"Tel us," he said through gritted teeth. "What are you doing here? Why are you following us?"

The automaton’s razor-lined mouth opened. Its voice when it spoke sounded like the buzzing and grinding of faulty machinery. "I . . . am . . . a . . . warning . . . from the Magister."

"A warning to who? To the family in the manor? tell me!" Will looked as if he were going to kick the creature again; Jem laid a hand on his shoulder.

"It doesn’t feel pain, Will," he said in a low voice. "And it says it has a message. Let it deliver it."

"A warning . . . to you, Will Herondale . . . and to all Nephilim . . ." The creature’s broken voice ground out, "The Magister says . . . you must cease your investigation. The past . . . is the past. Leave Mortmain’s buried, or your family will pay the price. Do not dare approach or warn them. If you do, they will be destroyed."

Jem was looking at Will ; Will was still ashy-pale, but his cheeks were burning with rage. "How did Mortmain bring my family here? Did he threaten them? What has he done?"

The creature whirred and clicked, then began to speak again. "I . . . am . . . a . . . warning . . . from . . ."

Will snarled like an animal and slashed down with the sword. Tessa remembered Jessamine, in Hyde Park, tearing a faerie creature to ribbons with her delicate parasol. Will cut at the automaton until it was little more than ribbons of metal; Jem, throwing his arms around his friend and yanking him bodily backward, finally stopped him.

"Will," he said. "Will, enough." He glanced up, and the other two fol owed his gaze. In the distance, through the trees, other shapes moved-more automatons, like this one. "We must go," Jem said. "If we want to draw them off, away from your family, we must leave."

Will hesitated.

"Will, you know you cannot go near them," Jem said desperately. "If nothing else, it is the Law. If we bring danger to them, the Clave Will not move to help them in any way. They are not Shadowhunters anymore. Will."

Slowly Will lowered his arm to his side. He stood, with one of Jem’s arms stil around his shoulders, staring down at the pile of scrap metal at his feet.

Black liquid dripped from the blade of the sword that dangled in his hand, and scorched the grass below.

Tessa exhaled. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath until that moment. Will must have heard her, for he raised his head and his gaze met hers across the clearing. Something in it made her look away. Agony stripped so raw was not meant for her eyes.

* * * In the end they hid the remains of the destroyed automaton as swiftly as possible, by burying them in the soft earth beneath a rotting log. Tessa helped as best she could, hampered by her skirts. By the end of it her hands were as black with dirt and mud as Will ‘s and Jem’s were.

None of them spoke; they worked in an eerie silence. When they were done, Will led the way out of the copse, guided by the light of Jem’s witchlight rune-stone. They emerged from the woods nearly at the road, where the Starkweather carriage waited, Gottshal dozing in the driver’s seat as if only a few moments had passed since they had arrived.

If their appearances-filthy, smeared with mud, and with leaves caught in their hair-surprised the old man at all, he didn’t show it, nor did he ask them if they had found what they had come looking for. He only grunted a Hello and waited for them to climb up into the carriage before he signaled the horses with a click of his tongue to turn around and begin the long journey back to York.

The curtains inside the carriage were drawn back; the sky was heavy with blackish clouds, pressing down on the horizon. "It’s going to rain," Jem said, pushing damp silvery hair out of his eyes.

Will said nothing. He was staring out the window. His eyes were the color of the Arctic sea at night.

"Cecily," said Tessa in a much gentler voice than she was used to using with Will these days. He looked so miserable-as bleak and stark as the moors they were passing through. "Your sister-she looks like you."

Will remained silent. Tessa, seated next to Jem on the hard seat, shivered a little. Her clothes were damp from the wet earth and branches, and the inside of the carriage was cold. Jem reached down and, finding a slightly ragged lap rug, settled it over the both of them. She could feel the heat that radiated off his body, as if he were feverish, and fought the urge to move closer to him to get warm.

"Are you cold, Will ?" she asked, but he only shook his head, his eyes stil staring, unseeing, at the passing countryside. She looked at Jem in desperation.

Jem spoke, his voice clear and direct. "Will," he said. "I thought . . . I thought that your sister was dead."